CHICAGO -- Joyce LeFlore turned on the engine of her shiny black Infiniti and watched the gasoline gauge to see how much $15 bought her.
It wasn't much.
''Less than half a tank,'' she sighed before driving away. She had paid $2.35 a gallon for the premium grade required in her luxury car. Regular was $2.10, mid-grade $2.20.
LeFlore's frustration is being felt by drivers across the Midwest, who are paying some of the highest gas prices in the nation. Many say they aren't canceling their Fourth of July weekend plans but they are making changes, such as driving from Chicago to Indiana for slightly cheaper gas or organizing car pools.
A survey by the American Automobile Association projects 37.5 million people will travel 100 miles or more from home between Friday and Tuesday. Of those, 32 million are expected to travel by car, a 4 percent increase over last year, AAA spokeswoman Janie Graziani said.
The association expects nearly 5 million of all holiday weekend travelers to be from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin, even though gas prices are as much as 90 cents more per gallon in some places than a year ago.
Jerry Pagel of Wausau, Wis., refuses to cancel his weekend trips to his parents' cottage on Lake Nokomis, about 40 miles north.
''Nothing would make me change those plans, even if they put it at $4 a gallon,'' Pagel said as he pumped $25 worth of unleaded regular at $1.83 per gallon into his minivan.
Graziani was not surprised that most people feel the way Pagel does. She said gas is still a small fraction of travel expenses compared with meals, hotel rooms and tourist attractions. It still costs less for a family to drive than buy airplane tickets, which include a fuel surcharge of up to $30 per round-trip ticket.
The AAA survey of 1,300 adults was taken in April, before gas prices hit the $2-per-gallon mark in some areas, but Graziani said it included questions about travel plans if prices continued to rise. Only 1 percent said they would cancel their trips.
A year ago, the average price for a gallon of regular-grade gas in Michigan was $1.15 a gallon. This year it's $1.97, according to AAA.
Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said Tuesday that ''unacceptably high'' gas prices are falling 7 to 12 cents per gallon in the Midwest. He also said Energy Department figures showed gas prices nationwide dropped 3 cents a gallon over the last week.
BP Amoco, the largest supplier of gas in the Chicago area, announced last week it was lowering prices, which officials attributed to an increase in oil supply.
Cicero Miller was pleased to get even a small break as he fueled up his Jeep Cherokee sport utility vehicle at an Amoco station on Chicago's southwest side, where the lowest grade gas was $2 per gallon. He said it now costs him about $40 to fill up his tank, compared with about $25 a year ago.
''I'm retired and on a fixed income, so it's taking a bite,'' he said.
He's been saving a little by driving 10 miles or so to the Indiana state line and fueling up there, where gas is averaging about 20 cents cheaper for regular grade.
LeFlore, Miller and other motorists said they have heard many explanations for the rise in prices. Industry officials have cited rising crude oil prices, low gasoline stocks, pipeline problems and cleaner-burning, more-expensive reformulated gas required in Chicago, Milwaukee and other cities with severe summer smog problems.
Like Miller, Patricia Carroll has been going to Indiana to fill up her Saab. She plans outings there like berry picking or trips to the beach with her 7-year-old daughter to make up for the inconvenience of driving to another state for gas.
''I have family and friends around the country and nobody is paying this much,'' Carroll said.
Experts expect gas prices to drop once the summer travel season ends.
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